Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Thanksgiving Warm-Up, Or, In Search Of The Loch Ness Pancake

You know that it's been a lousy summer, garden-wise, when your plants yield more tomatoes in October and November than they did ALL SUMMER.

Bizarro, indeed.

On the other hand, there is something deeply satisfying about being able to walk into your own backyard a few days before Thanksgiving and pick some green tomatoes, the last of the chard and the last of the dandy greens, then turn around, walk inside and prepare a beautiful fall dinner for twenty of you hungry people!

I had been flipping through one of my favorite cookbooks, Olives and Oranges by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox and found an intriguing recipe for Lamb Shoulder with Concord Grapes and Green Tomatoes. Grapes AND tomatoes? Hmmm...

Since there were green tomatoes galore in the backyard (ahem) and concord grapes still at the market, I figured why the hell not? The rest of the menu came together around that dish, along with the recipe for Tempura Fried Green Beans, only with Ponzu Sauce, not mustard, from the Sunday New York Times a few weeks earlier.

The invite:

Hungry Kiddies!

I am in a spit-roasted pig hangover/fog. Many thanks to those who made it and many apologies to those who I had to turn away. Roast pig really motivates you folks!!

So... there are still a bunch of things I have been thinking about, and the weekend before Thanksgiving seems to be the perfect opportunity! Think of this dinner as a chance to eat some really great food before you are forced to go to your annual pilgrimage home to your family's Thanksgiving dinner, and all of the "family recipes" that entails. I know that green bean casserole holds a special place in many of our hearts, but.... I think we can all admit that it isn't that mouth watering, right? Don't get me wrong- I will be right there eating 3 helpings of it on Thursday, but facts is facts. Karl and I are taking down the last remnants of the garden FOR REAL this week-- which means I need to use the rest of that chard, green tomatoes and dandy greens. Concord grapes are still in the market, so we need to eat those too, right?

The Menu:
  • Tempura Green Beans with Ponzu
    (this was a staple dish at Fressen years ago-- it just appeared in the NYT and made me want it all over again)
  • Turnips and their Tops in Miso Broth
  • Dandy Green Salad from our garden!! with candied bacon and a mayonnaise-y dressing of sorts
  • Swiss Chard with a touch of Chili Flake from the garden!
  • Cauliflower with Anchovy Butter, an all time favorite of mine from Prune
  • Slow Braised Lamb Shoulder with Concord Grapes and Green Tomatoes also from the garden!-- from Olives and Oranges by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox
  • Israeli Cous Cous
  • and
  • Let's Try This Again, This Time with Pears, Swedish Oven Pancake

I sliced the tomatoes in half and sauteed them with garlic and a little olive oil, browning them on both sides.

I ended up using both lamb shoulder (with bones) and a boned out leg of lamb, cut into pieces. It seemed right to use both cuts for a)financial reasons and b)flavor/texture.

Some might say that it's a waste of a good leg of lamb to slow braise it, but I disagree. The leg breaks down slower than the shoulder does, and has a little more heft to it. The shoulder provides the bone marrow and the fat, and the leg gives you that full, rich lamb flavor.

The recipe is oddly simple -- I kept thinking, "Really? That's it?"

Salt, pepper, seared lamb, garlic and green tomatoes, concord grapes and white wine. That was it.

Covered it up, parked it in the oven and walked away. I think the total oven time was about three hours; About twice as long as the recipe called for, but I was also quadrupling the ingredients. When I finally pulled out the covered pot, the dish was glorious: Melt in your mouth.

Interestingly, the kitchen smelled of concord grapes, but the acid in the green tomatoes cut both the fruity flavor and the lamb fat very well. I only wish I hadn't waited until the end of grape season to make this! Damn. More next year.

We started with tempura green beans.

Hot, salty, tempura greenie beanies = excellent.

When I worked at Fressen, many, many moons ago, Chef Lynn McNeely served these with ponzu sauce and I loved them. I might have a problem, now that I know how easy they are to make... The batter is made with flour, egg whites and seltzer. And don't forget HOT oil for FRY-Tastic action!!!

I meant to make the ponzu sauce, but got too busy, and Karl ended up doing it. It was awesome, but I have no idea what he put in it. (Maybe, when he is done uploading the pictures, he will tell us...)

Karl sez: "- Three parts of each: soy sauce, lemon juice, mirin (sweet japanese rice wine) or you can cheat using dry sherry mixed with a little sugar, Two parts olive oil. One part chopped fresh ginger. Chopped lemon zest to taste"

Turnips And Their Tops in Miso Broth is a recipe from one of the final issues of Gourmet. Since I now really like baby turnips (a great surprise to me, since I hate many -- ok, almost ALL -- root vegetables,) the idea of serving them with a brothy version of miso butter (mirin, sherry, miso, butter and water) felt like a winner.

The bite of the turnip greens cuts through the miso broth perfectly-- and it's a gentle broth -- not quite a full-on soup. Ah, Gourmet... I miss you so. Fucking Conde Nast...

But I digress. The Israeli Cous Cous was recast as Saffron Scented Rice -- the perfect vehicle for the lamb juices.

The dandy salad was topped with candied bacon.

I know it seems like that is all we eat here, but I can assure you that is not the case. I will say, though, that the reason it is featured on the blog so much (I wonder how many posts include candied bacon?) is because it is FUCKING DELICIOUS.

"Aw, heck... not candied bacon AGAIN..."

I decided in the end that a mayonaise-y dressing would be overkill, so I just made a vinaigrette with cider vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, olive oil, pomegranate molasses, salt and pepper. It must have turned out okay, because I never got to eat any. It was gone by the time I got to the table...

Ah, Tamara Farms® chard...

The chard was so beautiful! I will definitely plant more next year... I was able to keep eating from the same plants the whole summer and fall by just picking the outer leaves and leaving the inner ones to grow. It was kind of painful to cut the last bit down. But delicious.

I just sauteed it lightly with garlic, olive oil and chili flake. Spicy and very green tasting, the perfect way to compliment the lamb.

Cauliflower with anchovy butter. I could eat this every day if I let myself. Cauliflower steamed, and then tossed with hot anchovy butter and a final squeeze of lemon.

And the Swedish Oven Pancake.

Karl refers to this delicious dessert/breakfast item as the Swedish Loch Ness Pancake. He loves to claim that it was only spotted once: the morning after the first time he stayed the night.

He CLAIMS that I only made The Loch Ness Pancake to seduce him into thinking I could bust moves both in the sack AND in the kitchen, and then I never, ever made it for him again.

I have NO IDEA what he is talking about.

Well, actually, there was a long period of time where it didn't turn up in the Web Search on the New York Times website, which is where I originally found it. Then, I couldn't find the yellowed, torn copy that I had ripped out of the paper.

It's basically an upside down pancake: Apples/pears sauteed with brown sugar, butter and a touch of calvados or brandy, then crepe batter is poured into the hot pan, and the whole shebang is tossed into a 425 degree oven for about 25 minutes. The pancake puffs waaaaay up, then when you pull it out it falls a little but not completely, and it's served hot.

Great, right? Yeah. A few dinners ago, I made it, but with plums. They looked so juicy and good. Well, they WERE juicy and good, so of course, since the crepe can't absorb all of that juice, it puffed a little and then went completely flat when I took it out of the oven, and looked like an eggy plum disaster. It was hands down the absolute worst looking thing I have EVER served. I actually considered not serving it, but it was late in the evening and I had no other option. However, miracle of miracles... it turned out REALLY DELICIOUS.

Looks and flavor? Not always related. Didn't Eddie Murphy make a similar argument about fucking ugly people? I think he did. In any case, this one came out pretty AND delicious...

A wonderful ending to a deeply flavorful and satisfying late fall dinner. Now that we have entered the season of nothing but root vegetables, I know I will look back at this post longingly.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Whole. Roasted. Pig. On a MECHANICAL Spit!

That'll do, Pig.

How does one become jaded about roasting an entire animal?

I am still trying to answer this.

Naturally, I got sick as soon as I returned from "Book Tour! - The Musical!" so, maybe it had something to do with my Menage-Á-Puffs Tissues and NyQuil. Despite having just gotten over a cold, I wanted to do a Sunday Night Dinner, and we needed to do one because there were press people who needed to attend. Truth be told, I also missed seeing both the regulars and newbies, so I guess I needed it too. Also, another pig roast has been on my mind for the past year, but I couldn't get it together until now.

One of the press people due to attend was from
Princeton Alumni Weekly, and was doing a story on Zora. It made sense to do dinner at her joint, so he could see and report on the heights to which she aspired and achieved "in the nation's service, and in the service of all nations..." (Home ownership, and a superb collection of vinyl, for starters!)

This choice of locale ultimately meant that Peter was going to be the Roaster In Chief. And here, people, is where it gets REALLY GOOD.

For the past, oh... seven years, and probably through about ten lamb roasts, (and one pig roast - the very first time we roasted a whole animal) we have spit-grilled using a fifty-gallon drum, cut in half, resting on a hunk of junkyard salvaged I-beam.

The Old Skool Spit Grill...

We'd put the animal on a spit which rested precariously across stacked cinder blocks either "liberated" from local construction sites, or else purchased from the only lumberyard I've ever seen that featured pictures of Obama and Michelle hanging right next to girly pinups...

Cooking-wise (i.e. turning-the-spit-wise,) we at Sunday Night Dinner have traditionally relied on the kindness of strangers, the power of booze and the Tom Sawyer method ("Wheee! Turning a pig/lamb in the freezing cold is FUN! Hey... where are you going? Hey!...) to convince people to sit in (usually) the freezing cold and sloooowly turn the pig/lamb on the spit
nonstop for something in the order of five hours. Occasionally, to escape, the designated turner would have to resort to straight-up subterfuge, and con somebody into turning the spit for a minute, only to disappear forever...

This time, I think Peter correctly realized he would probably end up doing solo duty on the wheels of pork, so he purchased a Souvla: an authentic spit roasting setup that involves a rotary *MOTOR*, so all the turner is responsible for is refilling their drink and occasionally moving the hot coals around.

Yeah, man...

After you've wrestled the animal onto the spit that is. Which, apparently, takes a significant amount of time. (I have nothing to say for myself about this part, because I cooked a cocktail party for a job the night before, stayed up really late, and, having just recovered from being sick, slept until noon. I missed the entire hoisting and trussing of the animal; Zora and Peter were on their own for that.)

Zora mans the coals...

But the reports were that it took WAY longer than anyone thought it would, which put us about two hours behind the schedule that Zora had thoughtfully made the night before. Two hours doesn't seem like any big deal to you, right? You're thinking: "Hey! They have all day! What's the problem?"

Well, that's somewhat true... But it is also true that you
cannot rush roasting a whole animal; It isn't like you can speed roast it towards the end to make up the time.

When we arrived, Peter insisted that Karl join him and help him drink some beer, and they took up temporary residence in the Prison Yard, to watch the pig go round and round and round.

...and round and round and round...
Note cute foil ear protectors to prevent overcrisping...

Zora had been busy in the kitchen for who knows how long, and had produced gorgeous, flaky pie crusts for Pumpkin Pie. She consulted both her father Patrick and the Libby's label to get the ideal spice/ratio/game plan. Like Medicine, cooking is both science AND art, people!

nom nom nom nom nom...

I quickly got to work making Sara Jenkins' Turnip, Leek, Green Apple and Jerusalem Artichoke soup from The Olives And Oranges Cookbook. Naturally, I couldn't find enough Jerusalem Artichokes, so I decided that cardoons could work. It turned out to be a simple, delicious and delicate tasting soup, even though the texture is hearty. You chop and saute the artichokes, onions, leeks, and garlic (and in this case, cardoons), add water and simmer for twenty minutes, then add the rest of the chopped vegetables, some water, wine and/or stock, and simmer for ninety minutes. Puree, add salt and a little olive oil and... presto! A scooby snack for people turning the pig or, um, people who are starving and waiting for the pig to finish roasting...

Pumpkin pies went into the oven for an hour or so, which left time for preparing beets for roasting, i.e. cutting off the tops and blanching them in very salty water, washing the dirt off the beet roots and putting those in a roasting pan with a little water and covering the pan with aluminum foil.

Squash for roasting, this ultimately went into the Farro, Bulgur, Sage and Squash side dish I wrote for potential publication in Saveur Magazine earlier in the week, (don't worry: if they don't publish it, I will!)

Photo Credit: Katja Heinemann

Photo Credit: Katja Heinemann

Washing cauliflower for Zora to give the old roasting/garam masala treatment, and consulting with Peter The Egg Whisperer about the semi-hard boiled eggs: 7 minutes, 20 seconds (exactly) for dead in between soft and hard boiled.

The little eggs were peeled, chilled, cut in half, and topped with a fantastic herb pesto (pureed basil, chives, sage, parsley , capers, and just enough olive oil to hold the whole business together), and diced anchovies, a la the dish I ate at Anchovies and Olives in Seattle. Ps-- after eating these little gems, I will never make a devilled egg again. These kick devilled eggs' asses down the block!

Photo Credit: Katja Heinemann

Photo Credit: Katja Heinemann

The beets got topped with aioli, (sitting on their blanched tops, of course), there was a teeny bit of arugula left over from my gig the night before so we tossed it with salt, lemon and olive oil and poof! It was salad.

And... Pickled Tomatoes. When Zora and I worked at Prune together (it seems a million years ago) Gabrielle Hamilton was serving roasted suckling pig with pickled tomatoes and aioli. The pickled tomatoes were the perfect foil to the richness of the pig and the aioli. Unfortunately, Zora and I were both, er, released from Prune without either of us having gotten the recipe.

Damn. Strangely enough, though, when our backs were up against the wall, Zora found a virtually identical recipe online through a completely unrelated source... Again, are there really any completely new ideas? When I got to her house and tasted the tomatoes, it was like having been transported back about four years to the Prune tomatoes! I fucking LOVE them. Lightly pickled with ginger, coriander, garlic, olive oil, lemon, hot pepper, and something else... I will be making them all the time, now. They are also delicious on dal with scallions.

Photo Credit: Katja Heinemann

Katja Heinemann, another photographer, was also in attendance, shooting for an article about us for Maclean's Magazine in Canada.

She was so kind to include Karl in the pics that they used-- which made his mother, Joan, in Montreal very happy...

All in all, a successful night, though it felt like we wouldn't get to eat any pig until after midnight. Now we know. And now, we have a real mechanical souvla, thanks to Peter! We can enter our forties sitting on our asses, watching the animal go round and round, and occupying ourselves by drinking and telling stories and not worrying about turning the lamb or the pig!!!

Photo Credit: Katja Heinemann